Indeed, Orthodox Jews have never been givers to The Wiesenthal Center. Hier, for his part, has not actively sought their support. "My appeal was always beyond the Orthodox community," he says. At times it has seemed that Hier has gone out of his way to offend his fellow Orthodox. Some academicians were reportedly disturbed when Hier, who possessed no academic credentials beyond his yeshiva ordination, had appointed himself "dean" of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. And that, despite his lack of academic standing, he would not permit the parent organization in New York to exert any influence on his operation.
Not all Jewish leaders keep their sentiments private. For the past several years, Hyman Haves has been Hier's equal in tenacity and verve. The 74-year-old former ADL executive has publicly battled The Wiesenthal Center over its foray into California and federal politics. Haves believes the center--which was united with the yeshiva and thus a religious institution--has no business seeking money or favors from the government. Haves, in fact, testified before the Legislature against the approval of the $5-million grant in 1985.
Like Haves, UCLA's Rabbi Seidler-Feller has not always hidden his criticisms of Hier and The Wiesenthal Center. Seidler-Feller claims that his outspokeness almost cost him his job. At a Yom Kippur service several years ago, Seidler-Feller lectured that the center was an aberration from traditional Orthodoxy. "In Orthodox communities," says Siedler-Feller today, "you are never browbeaten with anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is not a force for promoting Jewishness. The agenda for Orthodoxy after the war was not to build memorials and not to cry, but to promote learning and create the positive capabilities for the survival of Judaism."
As a result, he says, an irate member of the center tried to have him fired. Hier says he, himself, would never have done such a thing, and knew nothing of it.
In its fervid pursuit of anti-Semitism, the center also sometimes slips. Last February, Donald Dean Hiner, a part-time history instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indiana, taught that the Holocaust never took place and the Nazis had no plan to exterminate the Jews. Marcia Goldstone, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Indianapolis, worked behind the scenes on the Hiner case with university officials and the ADL. The university agreed to suspend Hiner with pay, indicating that he could be fired later. But a Midwest member of the center--unaware of these moves--called Cooper demanding action. Without telling the local Jewish establishment, Wiesenthal Center Director Gerald Margolis contacted the university and urged Hiner's dismissal.
Goldstone learned of his effort from the newspaper. She was not happy. "From the outside it looks like the Jewish community doesn't know what it's doing," she says. "From the inside it confuses and upsets people."
Hier offered a grudging apology. But he hates the idea of having to observe Jewish organizational etiquette. "There is no such thing as somebody 'handling an incident,' " says Hier. "Who pre-assigned it? Was it a group that got together 90 years ago and said this is our turf?
"Sometimes there is a danger of being too organized," says Hier. "Being too organized sometimes stifles creativity, individuality. Sometimes the organized Jewish community, by its democratic nature, becomes too unruly. It's hard to conduct a committee with 200 people."
There have been occasions, however, in which Hier's disregard for diplomatic prerogatives could conceivably harm the very Jews he has sought to protect. For example, in 1985, Hier decided to commemorate the Armenian genocide in his museum, despite criticism from some elements of the Jewish community. The Turks soon responded to Hier's plan with veiled threats about no longer being able to "protect" the Jews living in Muslim Turkey. (Israel has been quiet regarding the Armenian genocide for precisely that reason.)
Hier says he took the position in service to historical truth. The Armenian genocide happened, he says. That, in itself, is sufficient to be commemorated in his museum.
"What Hier has done," said Berenbaum, Washington's Holocaust Memorial director, "which is an act of almost singular integrity, is not to allow the rewriting of history to the exclusion of Armenian genocide. He is saying if you can rewrite one history, you can rewrite another."